When most people think about racial persecution and genocide during the Nazi regime, the Holocaust is usually the first thing on everyone’s mind. Although it’s true that the Jews endured horrible atrocities, they were not the only ones to suffer under Adolf Hitler’s twisted ideas of racial superiority.
The population of African people living in Germany was relatively small compared to the Jews, but the Africans weren’t spared when the Nazis decided to rid the world of anyone who did not fit their Aryan ideal. The stories of the Africans who lost their lives before, during, and after the war—as well as those who survived—are often forgotten. We believe those stories need to be told.
10. The Death Camps
Years before the Nazis came to power, the German army was methodically killing off Africans in a racially motivated genocide. When Germany colonized South West Africa, they created a death camp in what is now known as modern-day Namibia.
In 1904, General Lothar von Trotha gave the order that all native Herero people needed to be exterminated to make space for German colonists. He specifically ordered that the soldiers show no mercy to women and children. In just three years, the Germans killed thousands of people, wiping out approximately 80 percent of the Herero tribe and 50 percent of the Nama tribe.
A total of five different concentration camps were located in Namibia on Shark Island. It earned the nickname “Skeleton Coast” because of the mass graves that are still there. One missionary described a scene of an African woman lying on the ground and wasting away. When she asked for water from fellow prisoners, a German soldier shot her five times, outraged that she would have the audacity to ask for anything.
The soldiers were so proud of their “conquest” that they would have friends document the experience by taking photos of the soldiers surrounded by starving African prisoners. Then the pictures were turned into postcards to send back home. Some postcards even had pornographic images of German soldiers raping African women.
A man named Dr. Bofinger living in Namibia conducted experiments on the cadavers of these prisoners. He was known for decapitating the victims, preserving the heads, and sending them back to scientists living in Germany. At the time, Adolf Hitler was a young child, and none of these horrific crimes were actually associated with the Nazis.
Propaganda played a huge role in influencing the German people’s perspectives of Africans. The vast majority of Germans had no idea what went on in the African colonies. Propaganda was spreading about the friendship between Africa and Germany.
One propaganda poster shows a German woman with her arm around an African woman, claiming that there was no longer any “racial pride” in Germany. The government wanted to encourage citizens to move to all-German colonies in Africa, but the authorities couldn’t convince people to move unless it seemed like an appealing prospect.
After World War I, Germany lost their African colonies to the Allies. Before and after World War I, Germany was losing thousands of people who immigrated to the United States due to rampant unemployment and poverty.
After the rise of the Third Reich in the 1930s, German filmmakers created movies to glorify the history of German colonization in South West Africa. One of the Nazi’s long-term goals was to regain their African colonies and spread the Aryan race all over the world. They wanted people to get excited by the idea through these films.